THE masters who represent the sixteenth century for us differ considerably amongst themselves. A common background is now of less consequence than before. Each one, at least of the more talented artists, thrusts forward on his own initiative. More through the ability to combine and blend than as a result of creative power works are produced simultaneously on Netherlandish soil that have but little in common.
In the general atmosphere of unrest and discontent several assiduous painters are driven from one direction to another by changing fashions. The entity of personality is submerged in the profusion of new ideals and models that pour in from all sides. In the case of Orley, the art critic, assisted by only a small number of works authenticated by inscriptions, finds it difficult to get his bearings, in the case of Lucas van Leyden he has to make continual changes in rapid succession. To follow Jan Gossaert on his way is comparatively easy.
A substantial number of signed panels by his hand, some of them also dated, are easily accessible in the great galleries of London, Paris, Berlin, Munich and Vienna. Furthermore his language is loud, decided and, at bottom, unchanging, not easy to mistake. We are assisted by the fact that Gossaert never allowed his pupils to collaborate in his own work and that everything he produced, as a result of his ambition, his assiduity and his outstanding skill, possesses a quality that is hard to imitate.
What we know of Gossaert's life flows from van Mander's pen but it has unfortunately not been possible to add much to this information from other sources.
Gossaert came from Maubeuge in the Hainaut, now part of France. Hence his name Mabuse and the form of name he favoured for his signature at a later period: ' Joannes Malbodius'. The date of his birth is not known, he was probably born between 1470 and 1480 and was thus a contemporary of Dürer, a little younger than Quentin Massys, a little older than Lucas van Leyden.
An important clue has been found in the lists of the Antwerp St. Luke's Guild, in which for the year 1503 ' Jennyn van Hennegouwe' is entered as master. It has been rightly assumed that this refers to Jan Gossaert,